Travels with Charlie

Some of you will know either me or Charlie, others won’t, but that doesn’t matter. What is important is the amazing, crazy journey that we had. Now if you do know Charlie, you will understand; otherwise, you may want to meet this crazy guy.

Well it all started out as innocent dinner conversation. Friends of ours were discussing going to the waterfalls by San Blas. Most of us hadn’t been there, but Charlie had. He proceeded to describe the story of a tunnel built by the nationals on one of the routes to the falls. This was exciting and interesting information, so we decided to all go to the falls together.

Well as things happen in Mexico, we couldn’t all get together on the same day to do the trip, so a few of us went early and the rest of us went the following week. So far, sounds like no biggie right! Our friends go and report they had a great time. The road was a little rough, but not too bad. So the plan starts for our trip, going by the other road so we can go through the man-made tunnel with Charlie.

We meet bright and early at 9 in the morning at the north Pemex. Everyone is a chatter, excited and prepared for this adventure. We head north to Las Varas, but the day starts off with a small glitch. Someone who was driving, me, was too busy talking (big surprise) and missed taking the lateral at the entrance to Las Varas. Now I knew where we were headed, and I knew that I was suppose to exit, but oh well, no biggie, we continue on through a few sets of lights until we can exit to the lateral. Ok, so now we are roaming around the back streets of Las Varas wondering where Charlie is and wondering if he is waiting for us. A short phone conversation later and we are back together.

Now I am no slow babe when it comes to driving, those who know me can attest to that; but, I must say, I can’t compete with Charlie. It was already a wild ride on the road to San Blas, dodging topes, potholes, passing on bridges and curves…

Brakes slam on up ahead of me as I round a curve and Charlie pulls across the highway into a parking lot and he jumps out. He says, look at the great view. Wow, it was great, crashing waves, large rocks and blue as far as the eye can see. We take a breath, hop back into the vehicles and the chase is on… not too much further down the highway Charlie signals and pulls off to the right onto a dusty dirt road. After a little jockeying to get around the bend we are on the road to the falls. Ahhhhh lovely isn’t it. Around the first bend in the road we encounter a backhoe digging. Hmmm not so good, so here we are flagged past, we have to drive up on the bank tipped all most over on our side to get by, but no worries. Now that was exciting. Ok so now my Check Engine light is on; but that is nothing it has been flickering on and off for the past few days.

Not a 4X4

The road is a little rough, but we are in the jungle; traveling past pastures and a few animals at a fast rate of speed, maybe 10 kms an hour… but who cares we are here for the day. Soon a few ruts appear, we dodge a few rocks, ride over a tree root, up the shoulder and stop at a Y in the road. Whew the road has to get better, right!

Poor Car

Everyone gets out, ok so our bones are broke, I am not going to stop the car in case it doesn’t start again… just walk off the pain everyone – have a look! We all have a pow wow and decide not to go through the plantation and stick to the road. It has to get better right!

Up the hill, around a curve, dodge more rocks (bigger now), through a few ruts and up across a hill and we turn left. By now I am hanging back a little, just waiting to see where Charlie drives and what he hits with his car before I make a commitment on which way to go. We are now going to take a sharp left, Charlie’s car heads off up a steep embankment and gravity gives way and he lands down about 4 feet on the trail heading left. After seeing this, I slow down to save some undercarriage for another trip – just as I am about to give a little gas to take off over the embankment, my car grounds to a halt. Here I am, high centered, stuck on the trail… we are no longer calling this a road… and trail may be a bit too optimistic. So everyone gets out of the car again. The road must get better right?

Ok, I have 4 wheel drive, right… no I have winter and power drive. What! I thought that was 4 wheel drive. Not so. Anyway, they push, they pull, I reverse, I go forward, ok so now the tow rope comes out. Charlie backs up and we attach the tow rope and give my poor little deceitful car (not a 4 wheel drive ) a tug. Ok, that is great over the hump. Hmmm now my gas tank says ¼ full. Can’t be we just filled up… but the good news is my Check Engine light is now off. We are now also on the trail headed left. Everyone huddles around, beautiful view, great time, wow bumps are hard on the back, ow my neck hurts and Charlie’s wife, who has a bad back, isn’t speaking anymore just omitting the occasional moan… Ok back in the car and Charlie hollers, “the road has to get better right!”

Next stop a few minutes later to view a creek… hmmm should we go around, go through or give up. I declare that I am just going to leave my car, walk out and say it is stolen. Everyone laughs out loud… but I wasn’t really kidding, just testing. The road has to get better right!

I follow Charlie through the creek, at a safe distance. Splash. Wheee everyone having fun bumping around… well not so much, it is awfully quiet in the back seat except for the occasional ouch when my friends hit the roll bar with their heads.

Ok, around the bend and I catch up to Charlie – he is stopped. There is the tunnel he declares, as he is getting out of the Suburban. Wow, we all agree. This is cool. We are not driving through that someone asks… yup. It’s filled with water and mud, fairly long and dark. There is only room for one car and you probably couldn’t get your door open if you stopped in the middle. The road will get better right!

Bats! The Tunnel

We all walk through the tunnel, the bats take offense and take off skimming over the top of our heads to the delight of all… well maybe not all. Cool, ahhh wow, this was really worth it, right? This is a trip for a horse or a mule someone declares.

“Ok back in the cars,” Charlie hollers again. He takes off through the tunnel, looks easy. Most walk the tunnel and wait on the other side. I drive through the tunnel thinking that I can climb out the back of my car, out the back seat if I get stuck. Sure, like that will happen. Anyway, out through the tunnel I emerge. Lots of photos later we all take off again. “Just one mire creek and we are getting close to the waterfalls,” Charlie declares. Oh right, we are going to the waterfalls, we almost forgot. They had better be good. Sure wish we had brought beer.

We are all enthusiastic, yeah right! Through the creek and up a steep hill Charlie goes. I am just heading across the creek, water splashing into my car yelling “yeehaw” when I see Charlie skidding going up the steep hill. And here it stops, no really, his car skids back and forth, no amount of effort is going to move it. He backs up and tries again. Nope we are stuck. I still sigh that we should walk out and say our cars were stolen. My friends wonder idly how a tow truck would get here. Hmmm no AMA here I am sure.

We look up at the top of the hill and there is a pickup truck just parked there. Wow, just our luck. Charlie goes up and asks him for a tow and he agrees. A few tries and a few pesos later, Charlie is heading up the hill (top photo). The truck driver is waiting up at the top to see if I make it; or if he will make more money today.

Ok, so here is the chance for my non-4X4 to prove itself. My friend hops in the back seat for weight, suggests I don’t hit the rocks (no really) and I step on the gas. Now I have to avoid where Charlie was spinning out and the rocks are polished and slippery – so off I go. Not too fast or I will skid, not to slow or I will end up stuck and slipping back down the hill… just right. Up, up, up, to everyone’s amazement, I make it up the embankment. We all thank our new friend, donate more pesos and take a breath. “We are really close now,” Charlie declares. Oh right the waterfall! The road has to get better right!

Yellow Brick Road

So we continue up the hill, then we reach the top of the trail and head right. At the very top of the hill we emerge from the valley and jungle onto a cobble stone road with paved sidewalks and yellow no parking markers. Really, I kid you not. It was so surreal that we all had to take photos. Not sure why or what, but it was just so crazy after the ride we had been on to come upon this in the middle of nowhere.

Trail to WaterfallWaterfall 2What Sea Monster

From here it was a short ride to a small palapa where we parked and headed off walking to the falls. The falls were amazing, the walk down the steps and the jungle trail to the falls was a little rough, but after that trip there was no way we were not going to finish this. My friend takes a cool dip and we take a rest and some photos. Of course, this is the perfect time to mention that this is how all of the horror movies start – a lady is swimming in a beautiful pool, in the jungle with a waterfall in the background and then all hell breaks loose. I happened to mention this theory to my friend swimming in the pool. We all laughed, then she got out. Ok, so back to the palapa for a quick breather and home.

So here is the rest of the story. From the palapa we drive a few minutes on a cobblestone road to a little town. Charlie knows a little store that sells beer and water. We all stand around on the step laughing and talking, and rubbing our sore bodies. Then back home on a good paved road… really we couldn’t have done that from the start? Nope we would have missed the tunnel.

Just to provide a little perspective, Charlie figures that we drove 10 km through the jungle by the tunnel road and it took us almost 3 hours.

On Friday, we are heading off to visit somewhere that the hot water bubbles up through the gravel and we can boil eggs for lunch. The road has to be better right!

by Rhonda Viau-Caron, Calgary

This story was submitted by one of our readers. To learn more about the author/photographer, click on the “Contributors” tab near the top of the page. If you want to join in and share information, stories and photos of Jaltemba Bay, Mexico, please email them to

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5 Reviews on “Travels with Charlie”

  1. :

    A few years ago, Charlie took us up to the petroglyphs near Altavista in his all terrain, jungle trek, Suburban casually driving over boulders, spanning a 2 foot deep washout or both, one arm out the window and giving us a running commentary. Charlie is priceless!

  2. :

    I know Charlie very well, and I felt the bangs and jolts and slippery rocks and... his complete confidence that he'd get his people through. You couldn't have had a better guide... or a better writer. Well done Rhonda!

  3. :

    Great Job, Rhonda. Keep going. The road does get better!

  4. :

    Great story. My wife is from La Penita (we currently live in Chicago) and we plan on moving to La Penita in a few years. Your story sounds exactly how I want it to be like when that time comes. Looking forward to some more stories. Keep having fun. Jeff

  5. :

    Hey Rhonda.....thank you so much for writing about your adventures ..with Charlie..What a great writer you are... One day..Tom & I would love to experience some of your adventures...We would love to be in your car...cuz you sound like an awesome tour guide as well.... See you soon...neighbour... Dee

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